1. Wilks joins the Browns from Arizona, where he was fired after just one season as head coach. The Cardinals finished with the worst record the league, but their defense — Wilks’ specialty — finished 13th in total yardage allowed despite playing alongside the worst offense in the league. Wilks’ head-coaching experience is a valuable knowledge bank for first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens, and Wilks’ 4-3 defense fits the Browns’ personnel. In 2017, his only other season as a defensive coordinator, Wilks’ Panthers finished third in rushing defense, an area where the Browns defense needs to improve most (28th in 2018). Before Wilks was fired, future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said the players “would all want him back.”
2. Wilks’ first job after his playing career paid him $2,500 a month. He worked as a branch manager at First Citizens Bank. Wilks said he felt an itch to coach and was hired as a defensive coordinator at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black university that enrolls less than 2,000 students and is located less than two miles from the Panthers’ stadium. “One day, I’m gonna be coaching over there,” Wilks told azcentral.com he used to say as he walked past Bank of America Stadium. And 17 years later, he did.
3. Wilks has coached under Panthers coach Ron Rivera at three separate stops. They worked together in Chicago, San Diego and Carolina. In total, Wilks has spent nearly half of his coaching career working under Rivera. Rivera considers Wilks a good friend and endorsed the Cardinals’ decision to hire Wilks in 2018.
4. Wilks’ positional expertise is in the secondary. After playing quarterback at West Charlotte High School, Wilks was a defensive back for four years at Appalachian State (103 career tackles, four interceptions and four blocked kicks), was invited to Seahawks camp as a defensive back in 1992 and played defensive back and wide receiver for the Arena Football League’s Charlotte Rage in 1993. Since 2000, nine of Wilks’ 12 jobs included coaching the secondary. Most recently, he’s developed Josh Norman and James Bradberry into No. 1 corners in Carolina. And in 2006, he coached the Bears’ secondary that played a large role in Chicago’s Super Bowl appearance. The Bears led the league in turnovers forced that season, and the secondary was a large reason why. Clearly, Denzel Ward and Co. can learn a lot from their new defensive coordinator.
5. A few miscellaneous Wilks Facts:
When the Bears considered Steve Wilks for the their head coaching job in 2018, former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs vouched for Wilks as a leader. He also vouched for Wilks as an actor. Briggs believes Wilks looks like Denzel Washington and thought Wilks could parlay the Bears’ coaching gig with appearances on Chicago Fire, Med, and P.D.
When Wilks coached at Johnson C. Smith, the athletic department had so few resources that Wilks would sometimes line the fields or wash team equipment before and after practice. His reasoning? “I loved the game so much and I put a lot of time and passion into it,” Wilks said to azcardinals.com.
When Mike Thompson, a high school football coach in Mesa, Arizona, suddenly died in May of 2018, Wilks wrote a sympathy note to Thompson’s widow despite having never met the family. Wilks grew up with coaches as male role models because he was raised by a single mother, so he felt a connection to Thompson.